4. Odyssean Temporality: Many (Re)Turns [1]

The wisdom of the text is self-destructive (art is true but truth kills itself), but this self-destruction is infinitely displaced in a series of successive rhetorical reversals which, by the endless repetition of the same figure, keep it suspended between truth and the death of truth. [2]
Paul de Man

I. Odysseus’ Poem and Narratology

It would be hard to find a recent study of the Odyssey that fails to observe its concentration upon poetic craft: in the characters of Demodocus and Phemius, in its markedly artificial narrative exposition, and, above all, in the casting of its hero as the poet of the four central books. [3] But for all our attention to what one critic has called the “aedo-centrism” of the epic, we have not fully appreciated Odysseus’ poetic craft. [4] It is common to point to the two similes that liken Odysseus to a bard (Alcinous’ comparison in the middle of Book xi and its echo as Odysseus strings his bow) [5] and to observe how this hero-as-poet serves to accord a kind of heroism to the bard. Making him tell his own story seems to be mainly a kind of simile to aid exposition, another “trope” for the polytropic hero. [6] And, of course, it is a simile, but one that is extended: to adopt Quintilian’s terminology, this tropos becomes a figura. [7]
A more complete appreciation of Odysseus’ poetic role in Books ix–xii emerges from attention to the temporality of his tale. The analytical categories of narratology as defined by Gérard Genette make this temporal structure clear. In his book, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, Genette distinguishes three levels of narrative: [8]
histoire = story: the events narrated, for example, the adventures of Odysseus from the fall of Troy to his arrival at Calypso’s island
récit = narrative: the oral or written text in which the story is narrated, for example, the text of the Odyssey
narration = narration: the instance or event of telling the story, for example, Odysseus’ narrating of his adventures for the Phaeacians or a poet’s narrating of the Odyssey
The ultimate goal of Genette’s project is to elucidate the variety of relations among these three levels. He categorizes these relations in terms borrowed from the grammar of verbs, supporting his choice with the fact that any narrative is essentially an elaboration of a verbal form, an expansion of a verb: [9] tense, for the temporal relations between narrative and story; mood, for the forms and degrees of “dramatization” or μίμησις “imitation” of something vs. the διήγησις “telling” of it; [10] and voice, for the ways that the narrating event is implied in the narrative. It is the first of these categories, that of “tense,” that directly concerns the temporal patterns of a text. In his analysis of “tense,” Genette compares the order of events in the narrative with the order of the same events in the story, in order to determine their differences or what he terms their “anachronies.” [11] He finds variations on two basic patterns: retrospection or “analepsis,” a present enunciation in the narrative of what is past in the story and then a return to the narrative present; and anticipation or “prolepsis,” a present forecast in the narrative of what is future in the story and then a return to the narrative present.
These two patterns, analeptic recollections and proleptic prophecies, comprise the anachronies of the Odyssey. In each of them, the text “cuts away” to weave another space and another time, whether earlier or later, into the present narrative flow. This spatio-temporal interweaving creates the textual form of return—from present to past to present again or from present to future to present again—a chronological instance of the common Homeric narrative structure of “ring composition.” In the case of present-past-present recollections, we have the chronological order recognized in ancient Homeric criticism as ὕστερον–πρότερον Ὁμηρικῶς “the latter thing before the earlier thing as Homer does it.” [12] For when the units of the ὕστερον–πρότερον are those of time, there is no difference between A-B-A “ring-composition” and this chronological inversion, since the text always returns to its original position: the ὕστερον “later” before the πρότερον “earlier” up to the ὕστερον “later,” that is, present–past–present again. Like its hero, then, the temporality of the epic is polytropic, made up of many τρόποι “turns” or νόστοι “returns” of time: “many (re)turns” from the past and the future to the present. Just as in the story Odysseus leaves Ithaca, fights at Troy, and returns home, with many landings, departures, and new landings on the way, so the narrative repeatedly departs from the present time to the past or the future in the story and returns to the narrative present again. Both the action and the temporal form of the poem share the structure of (re)turn.
When we turn from the Odyssey as a whole to its hero’s poetry, we find the same temporality and a similarly analogical relation between content and form. Odysseus’ tale is made up of temporal patterns and actions which dramatize (re)turn. In its overall structure, Odysseus’ tale is a formal νόστος, a present–past–present “return.” Its poetic art is stressed by a simile, coined by his host Alcinous, likening Odysseus to an expert bard and praising both the external form and the internal intelligence of the tale. This narrative νόστος “return” acts as an item of fair exchange in the relation of ξενία “guest-friend exchange” with the Phaeacians. With its poetry—its “making” of the hero—Odysseus’ self-identification both repays the hospitality already lavished upon the heretofore anonymous guest and earns for him the νόστος of a passage home. This function of the tale as a whole is mirrored in individual episodes, where we find Odysseus as narrator exploiting temporal τρόπος “turning” to dramatize his πολυτροπία “turning many ways”—the tropic character of his challengers and his corresponding capacity to turn, return, change, and exchange. First, with Polyphemus, the trope takes the form of a λόγος “speech” (re)turned into a δόλος “trap” by means of a punning μῆτις “trick of transformative intelligence” that manipulates the conventions of the ξενία “guest-friend exchange” of ὀνόματα “names.” Then with Teiresias, νόστος “return” is revealed by the prophetic νόος “intelligence” to depend upon restraint of θυμός “passion, spirit, appetite.” With the blind seer’s prediction of Odysseus’ homecoming and death, the narrative trajectory reaches to the end of the epic and circles back to return to its origin in Hades. And finally, with the Cattle of the Sun, Odysseus proves his capacity to remember Teiresias’ dictates and to restrain his appetite in the ξενία “guest-friend exchange” of food. Both on the large scale and in its smaller parts, Odysseus’ tale embodies the form and the action of (re)turn. Thus composed, the account is not a rhetorically neutral reminiscence. This poem of νόστος “return” aims to define and to win νόστος, no matter what the risk. And, in the end, the hero’s poem will win νόστος, but at the risk of revealing too well the nature of (re)turn.

II. Odysseus’ πολυτροπία “turning in many directions”

Alcinous’ Simile: The Form and the Content of νόστος “return”

The temporality of Odysseus’ narrative is founded upon the chronological structure of the Odyssey as a whole, the structure that itself is built upon asking the hero’s name. At the end of Book viii, when Alcinous asks Odysseus to identify himself, his request sets up a long recollection that transforms the entire epic into a large-scale analepsis, a ὕστερον–πρότερον “the latter thing before the earlier thing” in which the present situation in Ithaca, Ogygia, and Phaeacia comes before the past. This διήγησις “narration” is also a μίμησις “imitation” of the self-identification required of the guest in this instance of ξενία “guest-friend exchange.” In exchange for the hospitality they have already lavished upon him and for their conveying him home, Odysseus must give the Phaeacians his name and then, like a poet, recall the events that “make” the name. In return for his return to Ithaca, he must give his return from Troy to Phaeacia: a νόστος for a νόστος.
Accordingly, Odysseus shapes his narrative in the manner of its frame, in the form, that is, of temporal return. He starts in the present by stating his name in full:
“νῦν δ᾽ ὄνομα πρῶτον μυθήσομαι, ὄφρα καὶ ὑμεῖς
εἴδετ᾽, ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἂν ἔπειτα φυγὼν ὕπο νηλεὲς ἦμαρ
ὑμῖν ξεῖνος ἔω καὶ ἀπόπροθι δώματα ναίων.
εἴμ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν
ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.”

“Now first I will declare my name, so that you too
may know, and that I hereafter, escaping the day without pity,
may be your guest-friend, although dwelling in halls far away.
I am Odysseus son of Laertes, known to all men
for my traps and my fame goes up to the heavens.” [13]
Odyssey ix 16–20
After completing his name with a description of his homeland—the place so dear that neither Calypso nor Circe could keep him away from it—he moves from the present to the past (Odyssey ix 21–36). [14] To substantiate his claim to a κλέος that reaches heaven, he will, he says, narrate νόστον ἐμὸν πολυκηδέα “my woeful return” (Odyssey ix 37–38). He begins with its earliest point, the departure from Troy, and proceeds from there—over the next three books—all the way back to the present again at Phaeacia (Odyssey ix 39–xii 453). [15] Formally, therefore, his narrative is a present–past–present circumstructure. The content of Odysseus’s κλέος is connected with the form of his νόστος by Alcinous himself.
To keep the audience from forgetting that Odysseus is the poet of Books ix–xii, the poet of the Odyssey weaves into Odysseus’ tale another chronological ring from past to present to past and, in the space thus formed, presents a scene of commentary upon the hero’s tale. In the middle of Odysseus’ journey to Hades described in Book xi, the text returns from the narration of the past to the hero’s narrating in the present: “‘But I could not tell or name all the women I saw who were the wives and daughters of heroes, for before that the undying night would perish’” (Odyssey xi 328–330). [16] Rather than ending a tale, such magnifications of the subject, coupled with a personal disclaimer, elsewhere fan the audience’s interest and good will. [17] That is the effect here, too, for the Phaeacians are enchanted. Echoing the return of Odysseus’ narrating, the poet, too, declares: “So he spoke, and all of them were hushed in silence and held by enchantment (κηληθμῷ) through the shadowy halls” (Odyssey xi 333–334). [18] The silence is broken, when the queen Arete exclaims: “‘Phaeacians, how does this man appear to you with respect to both visible form (εἶδoς) and size (μέγεθoς) and balanced wits within (φρένας ἔνδον ἐΐσας)?’” (Odyssey xi 336–337). The queen’s pairing of Odysseus’ external, visible, physical form with his interior, mental prowess reappears as the king Alcinous describes the hero’s tale:
“ὦ Ὀδυσεῦ, τὸ μὲν οὔ τί ς᾽ ἐίσκομεν εἰσορόωντες,
ἠπεροπῆά τ᾽ ἔμεν καὶ ἐπίκλοπον, οἷά τε πολλοὺς
βόσκει γαῖα μέλαινα πολυσπερέας ἀνθρώπους,
ψεύδεά τ᾽ ἀρτύνοντας ὅθεν κέ τις οὐδὲ ἴδοιτο:
σοὶ δ᾽ ἔπι μὲν μορφὴ ἐπέων, ἔνι δὲ φρένες ἐσθλαί.
μῦθον δ᾽ ὡς ὅτ᾽ ἀοιδὸς ἐπισταμένως κατέλεξας,
πάντων τ᾽ Ἀργείων σέο τ᾽ αὐτοῦ κήδεα λυγρά.”

“Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine
that you are a deceiver and a thief, of the sort that in great numbers
the dark earth breeds, men spread far and wide,
who fashion false things, stemming from whatever no one can see.
Upon you there is a beautiful form of words and in you are good wits
and the story, as does a poet, with knowledge you have narrated in full,
the baneful sorrows of all the Greeks and of you yourself.”
Odyssey xi 363–369
Odysseus’ narration of his νόστος “return” is like a skillful poet’s in its internal intelligence (ἔνι δὲ φρένες ἐσθλαί) and in the external “shape” or “form” (ἔπι μὲν μορφὴ ἐπέων). [19] By their relative abstractness, many translations of μορφή here—such as “grace” (Lattimore), “shapeliness” (Stanford), “charm” (Heubeck), or Anmut (Ameis-Hentze)—tend to obscure the mystery of this phrase μορφὴ ἐπέων. In Greek after Homer μορφή consistently denotes a shape or form, external, visible, material—especially that of the human body and those other entities that can undergo transformation. [20] When that μορφή is beautiful, the word can bear the force of this attribute and mean, in effect, “beauty”—not beauty as an abstraction, but rather as a quality or condition of something that can have a contour, that is, a material entity. [21] To use the word μορφή “shape, form” of ἐπέων “words, epic verse” implies a conception of epic narration as such a material entity, one whose form or shape can be discerned. [22] Such a conception coheres with the model inherited by Greek from Indo-European culture of poetry as a “woven text” [23] and indeed with the very notion of ποίησις “poetry” as “fabrication”—a “making”—and of the καλὴ ἀοιδή “beautiful poem” as a virtually architectural construction like that of the Delian Maidens in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo 164: οὕτω σφιν καλὴ συνάρηρεν ἀοιδή “thus was their beautiful song fitted together.” [24]
What, then, might be the particular μορφή, the beautiful “shape” or “form” that Alcinous discerns in Odysseus’ tale? The question cannot be answered definitively. For the usage of μορφή here is one of just two in all of hexameter diction, and the other repeats the question, insofar as it, too, attributes μορφή to words. In its verb, however, this second usage is suggestive. In Book viii, Odysseus counters the claim that he does not “look the part” of an athlete with a generalization about the relation between exterior appearance and interior quality:
“οὕτως οὐ πάντεσσι θεοὶ χαρίεντα διδοῦσιν
ἀνδράσιν, οὔτε φυὴν οὔτ᾽ ἂρ φρένας οὔτ᾽ ἀγορητύν.
ἄλλος μὲν γάρ τ᾽ εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρ,
ἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει.”

“Thus the gods do not give graces to all
men, not in stature nor in wits nor in ability to speak.
For one man is more weak in respect to visible appearance
but the god puts beautiful form as a crown around his words.”
Odyssey viii 167–170
The god crowns (στέφει, compare στέφος “crown, garland, wreath”) the “words” with a μορφή “beautiful form” as a στέφος “crown, garland, wreath” crowns a head or the bowl at a symposium. The other usage of στέφει in hexameter clarifies the metaphor here. In the Iliad, Athena prepares Achilles to show himself in order to strike fear into the Trojans:
                     ἀμφὶ δ᾽ Ἀθήνη
ὤμοις ἰφθίμοισι βάλ᾽ αἰγίδα θυσσανόεσσαν,
ἀμφὶ δέ οἱ κεφαλῇ νέφος ἔστεφε δῖα θεάων
χρύσεον, ἐκ δ᾽ αὐτοῦ δαῖε φλόγα παμφανόωσαν.

cast her tasseled aegis around his mighty shoulders
and around his head she put as a crown a cloud
golden, and from the man himself she kindled an all-gleaming blaze.
Iliad XVIII 203–206
As the goddess Athena “crowns” Achilles with a νέφος “cloud,” so the god, in Odysseus’ claim, “crowns” the “words” with a μορφή: as objects of στέφω both the νέφος “cloud” and the μορφή “beautiful form” share the shape of a στέφος “crown.” [25] The “words” are thus made metaphorically into something—a head or a bowl at a symposium—that can “wear” the “beautiful form” of a wreath.
What is this narrative μορφή? What form of epic narrative might be thought to share the coronal’s circular shape? The most common formal feature of Homeric style is, indeed, circular: A–B–A “ring-compositions” like that of the chronological ὕστερον–πρότερον “the latter thing before the earlier thing” form taken by Odysseus’ tale. By lauding the “beautiful form of words (μορφὴ ἐπέων)” in Odysseus’ narration, does Alcinous (and thereby, the poet) allude to its overall circumstructural “form,” its analeptic arrangement? Perhaps not—perhaps such an allusion would require a degree of abstraction foreign to characters in epic. The phrase remains mysterious. What we do know is, on one hand, that the temporal form of Odysseus’ tale is that of analepsis, and on the other, that the tale is likened to that of an expert poet by virtue of its exterior μορφὴ ἐπέων “beautiful form of words” and its internal φρένες ἐσθλαί “good wits.” Putting those two facts together, we are directed to ask why an expert poet would use the form we find in Odysseus’ narrative, the ὕστερον–πρότερον “the latter thing before the earlier thing” order, for a νόστος “return” that displays intelligence.
By this point in its development, Odysseus’ tale has shown why first-person analepsis with the prolepses it permits is the right form for imitating and narrating the intelligence behind his many returns. As μίμησις “imitation,” Odysseus’ recollection, because it returns from present to past to present, is a dramatization—a putting into the form of a δρᾶμα “doing”—of the action of memory, a virtual νόστος “return” of the mind, while as διήγησις “narration,” it traces the same pattern of νόστος in its cycles of departure and return, death and rebirth. [26] Just as the hero returns from the dead in Hades, so the narrator’s memory resurrects the past from the realm of the forgotten. [27] But by this point in Odysseus’ narrative, it is also clear that mental and physical return are not just formally parallel but are causally connected. In the Polyphemus and Teiresias episodes, Odysseus as narrator uses anachrony to show Odysseus as a hero learning what νόστος “return” requires: crafty ξενία “guest-friend exchange,” especially the exchange of names and food, “crafted” through remembering the dictates of the prophetic νόος “mind, intelligence.” [28] And later, in the encounter with the Cattle of the Sun, he will direct the same temporality toward proving that he has met these conditions of νόστος and that the gods thus will his return.

Polyphemus: λόγος “speech” (Re)Turned into δόλος “trap”

Because it is the longest episode that centers upon the hero’s action, the Polyphemus story offers the widest scope for the anachronies of first-person recollection, for the interplay between Odysseus as narrator and Odysseus as hero, between what he saw or foresaw then and what he sees now. As poet, Odysseus exploits this potential, but by neglecting the factor of analepsis with its double point of view critics have sometimes simplified or mistaken his complex meaning. Over the central issue of Odysseus’ giving his name, they have split into two camps: those who approve the withholding but not the giving of the proper name, and those who criticize the Οὖτις “Nobody”–trick but defend the later revelation. [29] The positions are not wholly exclusive, however. From the narratological perspective, the defense vs. the criticism of revealing the name corresponds, as we shall see, to the hero’s vs. the narrator’s point of view and thus reflects the anachronic structure of the text. As for the Οὖτις “Nobody”–trick, in this episode both hero and narrator are unequivocally delighted with this λόγος “speech”/δόλος “trap.” [30] Indeed, as narrator Odysseus uses anachrony to show what happens when such crafty manipulation of name-exchange is relaxed: the trick returns as and turns into the trickster.
From the start of the episode Odysseus as narrator employs prolepsis within the over-all analepsis to evaluate his actions as hero. After directing the rest of his comrades to remain behind while he goes with his crew to test the inhabitants of the island (Odyssey ix 172–176), he recounts sailing close enough to the shore to see a great cave and then gives the following description of its inhabitant:
                                      “ἔνθα δὲ πολλὰ
μῆλ᾽, ὄιές τε καὶ αἶγες, ἰαύεσκον: περὶ δ᾽ αὐλὴ
ὑψηλὴ δέδμητο κατωρυχέεσσι λίθοισι
μακρῇσίν τε πίτυσσιν ἰδὲ δρυσὶν ὑψικόμοισιν.
ἔνθα δ᾽ ἀνὴρ ἐνίαυε πελώριος, ὅς ῥα τὰ μῆλα
οἶος ποιμαίνεσκεν ἀπόπροθεν: οὐδὲ μετ᾽ ἄλλους
πωλεῖτ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἀπάνευθεν ἐὼν ἀθεμίστια ᾔδη.
καὶ γὰρ θαῦμ᾽ ἐτέτυκτο πελώριον, οὐδὲ ἐῴκει
ἀνδρί γε σιτοφάγῳ, ἀλλὰ ῥίῳ ὑλήεντι
ὑψηλῶν ὀρέων, ὅ τε φαίνεται οἶον ἀπ᾽ ἄλλων.”

                                      “There many
flocks, both sheep and goats, used often to sleep. And a lofty
courtyard had been built around with deep-dug stones
and tall pines and oaks with lofty foliage.
There a monstrous man used to spend his nights, who
used often to shepherd his flocks alone and afar: nor did he
used to mingle with others, but being apart from them he knew no civilized customs.
For he was created as a monstrous marvel, and was not like
a man who eats bread, but like the wooded peak
of lofty mountains, which appears alone, away from the others.”
Odyssey ix 183–192
This proleptic description has been interpreted as an attempt to “mislead” the audience by implying that Odysseus the hero “already knows” the Cyclops’ character so that his taking of the Ismarian wine will not seem unmotivated. [31] But the tenses of the verbs—the imperfects, ἐνίαυε “used to spend his nights,” πωλεῖτ᾽ “used to mingle” and the frequentatives, ἰαύεσκον “used often to sleep,” and ποιμαίνεσκεν “used often to shepherd”—imply that this prolepsis expresses the perspective not of Odysseus the hero, not what he can see and thus “already knows” at that moment of sailing by the cave, but rather the perspective of Odysseus the narrator, who now knows what Polyphemus used frequently to do. The purpose of the narrator’s foreshadowing does not seem to be to mislead, but rather to enable the audience to anticipate what is coming and to applaud what Odysseus does next, that is, to foresee as hero what as narrator he has just established as fact. For it is now that Odysseus describes the fabulous wine (Odyssey ix 196–213) and explains why he took it along:
               “αὐτίκα γάρ μοι ὀίσατο θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ
ἄνδρ᾽ ἐπελεύσεσθαι μεγάλην ἐπιειμένον ἀλκήν,
ἄγριον, οὔτε δίκας ἐὺ εἰδότα οὔτε θέμιστας.”

               “For my manly spirit had suspected that
very soon a man would come upon us clothed in great strength,
savage, who knew well neither rights nor civilized customs.”
Odyssey ix 213–215
The focus on the θυμός “spirit, passion” here initiates a careful and critical usage of the term in the Polyphemus and Teiresias episodes by which, as we shall see, Odysseus both displays and evaluates the two sides of his character: the defensive, preservative ingenuity we see now and the aggressive, excessive appetite which will nearly destroy him later and which Teiresias will declare he must curb in order to reach home. At this point, the foresight provided by the θυμός is complimentary to the hero, but it also sharpens the critical edge of the narrator’s next prolepsis. For after relating how his companions begged him just to take some food and escape, Odysseus adds: “‘but I did not obey—and indeed it would have been much more profitable—in order that I could both see the creature himself and whether he would give me guest-presents (ξείνια)’” (Odyssey ix 228–229). If he can anticipate the Cyclops’ character, he should be all the more able to heed his companions’ warning. Now, as narrator, he says that it would have been more advantageous to do so, but then, as hero, he was determined to pit the skills of culture against nature’s rude force, to extract the recognition of ξενία “guest-friend exchange” even from a monster.
Odysseus as narrator still sees the contest in these terms. His use of two narrative devices, the simile and the pun, stamp his former weapons as cultural products. He likens his olive beam to tools of civilized crafts, one of which, shipbuilding, the Cyclopes specifically lack: he and his men twist the beam as others drill a ship plank with a brace-and-bit, and its point sizzles in the Cyclops’ eye like a hot axe or plane in tempering water (Odyssey ix 125–130, 383–388, 391–394). This olive beam blinds Polyphemus, but escape from the beast—whose name means “he of the many speeches”—ultimately depends upon manipulation of λόγος “speech,” the cultural tool par excellence.
Odysseus wins the contest of speech-as-weapon because he can turn λόγος “speech” into δόλος “trap”—or so the narrator implies by glossing the Οὖτις “Nobody”/οὔ τις “not anybody” trick with a pun on μῆτις “trick of transformative intelligence” and μή τις “not anybody.” [32] After recalling the other Cyclopes’ answer to Polyphemus’ call for help:
“‘εἰ μὲν δὴ μή τίς σε βιάζεται οἶον ἐόντα,
νοῦσον γ᾽ οὔ πως ἔστι Διὸς μεγάλου ἀλέασθαι,
ἀλλὰ σύ γ᾽ εὔχεο πατρὶ Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι.’”

“‘If then indeed not anybody does violence to you, alone as you are,
by no means is it possible to avoid a sickness from great Zeus.
But do you rather pray to your father, the lord Poseidon.’”
Odyssey ix 410–412
Odysseus adds his own reaction:
“ὣς ἄρ᾽ ἔφαν ἀπιόντες, ἐμὸν δ᾽ ἐγέλασσε φίλον κῆρ,
ὡς ὄνομ᾽ ἐξαπάτησεν ἐμὸν καὶ μῆτις ἀμύμων.”

“So then they spoke as they went away, and my heart within me laughed at how
my name and my flawless trick of transformative intelligence utterly deceived him.”
Odyssey ix 413–414
After creating this pun, Odysseus as narrator reinforces it, repeating the word μῆτις in the same metrical position and assimilating the word-play to a δόλος “trap”:
“πάντας δὲ δόλους καὶ μῆτιν ὕφαινον
ὥς τε περὶ ψυχῆς: μέγα γὰρ κακὸν ἐγγύθεν ἦεν.”

“I was weaving all kinds of traps and a trick of transformative intelligence
as one always does when life is at stake. For great was the evil close upon us.”
Odyssey ix 422–423
By this reinforcement of his “flawless” pun, Odysseus as narrator registers his continued pride in what the pun implies: Odysseus is the “master-troper,” for he can turn a thing into the same–but–different thing. [33] Odysseus can assimilate μῆτις and μή τις, just as his μῆτις “trick of transformative intelligence” made the Cyclopes say μή τις “not anybody,” and just as his Οὖτις “Nobody”/ δόλος “trap” made Polyphemus say in his call for help:
“‘ὦ φίλοι, Οὖτίς με κτείνει δόλῳ οὐδὲ βίηφιν.’”

“‘O loved ones, Nobody is killing me by means of a trap or by violence.’”
Odyssey ix 408
By thus repeating Odysseus’ Οὖτις “Nobody” even as he calls it a δόλος “trap,” Polyphemus turns speech against himself. The speech/trap of Odysseus as the “master–(re)turner” is that Polyphemus must (re)turn his speech into and as a trick. Whose speech? Not “Nobody’s.” For it is the speech of Polyphemus himself that turns against Polyphemus, as long as his is the only “proper” name available to the contesting parties. With another proper name to say, however, the direction of Polyphemus’ speech will be turned.
In the second round of name-exchange, the narrator’s view diverges again from the hero’s. With emphasis on the θυμός “spirit, passion” that overruled his comrades’ arguments, Odysseus recalls his boast to the giant:
“ὣς φάσαν, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ πεῖθον ἐμὸν μεγαλήτορα θυμόν,
ἀλλά μιν ἄψορρον προσέφην κεκοτηότι θυμῷ:
‘Κύκλωψ, αἴ κέν τίς σε καταθνητῶν ἀνθρώπων
ὀφθαλμοῦ εἴρηται ἀεικελίην ἀλαωτύν,
φάσθαι Ὀδυσσῆα πτολιπόρθιον ἐξαλαῶσαι,
υἱὸν Λαέρτεω, Ἰθάκῃ ἔνι οἰκί᾽ ἔχοντα.’”

“So they spoke, but did not persuade my great-hearted spirit
but once again I spoke to him in the anger of my spirit:
‘Cyclops, if ever anyone of mortal men
asks about the shameful blinding of your eye,
say that Odysseus, sacker of cities, blinded you,
the son of Laertes, who has his home in Ithaca.’”
Odyssey ix 500–505
By giving the true, powerful version of his name, Odysseus activates the powerful version of his adversary’s name. In the name “Polyphemus” (Πολύφημος)—“he of the many speeches (φῆμαι)”—the “speeches” may be subjective or objective, “he who speaks” or “he who is spoken of” and the sense of φήμη, either an unmarked “report” or a marked “prayer or curse.” [34] Context alone regulates the polysemy, and in this context “Polyphemus” is now subjective and marked, “he who utters many curses.” For Odysseus has (re)turned to him and against himself the power of speech, the “divine” power—expressed by the optative mood used in prayers—to cause what it says. Now Polyphemus can with two such optatives—ὀψὲ κακῶς ἔλθοι “‘may he come home late and badly’” and εὕροι δ’ ἐν πήματα οἴκῳ “‘and may he find miseries in his home’”—curse a known, namable man, “Odysseus, sacker of cities” (Odyssey ix 530–535). The validity of the curse is confirmed by Odysseus as narrator, when, after describing his sacrifice to Zeus of the ram he rode to safety, he adds the prolepsis:
               “ὁ δ᾽ οὐκ ἐμπάζετο ἱρῶν,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γε μερμήριξεν ὅπως ἀπολοίατο πᾶσαι
νῆες ἐύσσελμοι καὶ ἐμοὶ ἐρίηρες ἑταῖροι.”

               “But he [Zeus] took no heed of my offerings,
but indeed was pondering how all my well-benched
ships might perish and all my trusty companions.”
Odyssey ix 553–555
By exploiting the double focus of first-person recollection through prolepsis, simile, and pun, the poet Odysseus shows what he now knows about the exchange of names. If your host proves to be as uncivilized as you expected by inverting the code of ξενία “guest-friend exchange”—asking your identity before feeding you, making a meal of instead of for his guests, escape lies in complementary inversions of the conventions—giving wine to your host, who drinks it alone, and giving “Nobody” as your name. [35] If your host is huge but brainless, you may blind him with the tricks of intellect and the tools of culture. But, if your host is savage, you must restrain all desire to gain more from him than escape. To extort personal credit for victory requires giving your name, thereby restoring the creature’s sight and canceling the intellectual advantage you won with your λόγος “speech”/δόλος “trap.” Only culture can accord κλέος “fame.” When ξενία is inverted, νόστος “return home” requires πολυτροπία, the continual, controlled (re)turning of λόγος into δόλος, despite the claims of θυμός. [36] What made this (re)vision of the encounter clear to Odysseus was the prophecy of Teiresias.

Teiresias: The Full Circle of Prolepsis

At the end of Book x, Circe tells Odysseus what he must do to return home:
“‘διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν᾽ Ὀδυσσεῦ,
μηκέτι νῦν ἀέκοντες ἐμῷ ἐνὶ μίμνετε οἴκῳ.
ἀλλ᾽ ἄλλην χρὴ πρῶτον ὁδὸν τελέσαι καὶ ἱκέσθαι
εἰς Ἀίδαο δόμους καὶ ἐπαινῆς Περσεφονείης,
ψυχῇ χρησομένους Θηβαίου Τειρεσίαο,
μάντηος ἀλαοῦ, τοῦ τε φρένες ἔμπεδοί εἰσι:
τῷ καὶ τεθνηῶτι νόον πόρε Περσεφόνεια,
οἴῳ πεπνῦσθαι, τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ἀίσσουσιν.’”

“‘Son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, resourceful Odysseus,
no longer remain in my house against your will.
But first you must accomplish another journey and arrive
at the halls of Hades and dread Persephone,
there to consult as oracle the soul of Teiresias the Theban,
the blind prophet, whose wits are always firm-set.
To this one, even though he has died, Persephone granted intelligence,
to him alone to be wise, while the others are flittering shadows.’”
Odyssey x 488–495
Here we meet two paradoxes, each with the same bearing on νόστος “return” and νόοs “intelligence.” To return to life Odysseus must suffer a death. The way home from Hades can be learned only from one who can see while blind, whose soul alone among the shades possesses oracular intelligence. In its formal and thematic relation to the rest of Odysseus’ poem, Teiresias’ prophecy displays this “homecoming” power.
At the heart of Odysseus’ recollection lies the prophecy of Teiresias. The two narrations are complementary in their anachronic structures. Odysseus’ tale is analeptic, tracing an arc from present to past to present, while Teiresias’ vision stretches from present to future to present. In the order of the text the hero’s account frames the prophet’s. Here is the composite:
HERO: Present to Past [PROPHET: Present to Future to Present] Past to Present
In this double anachronic μορφή, a circle toward the future interrupts, opposes, and complements a circle toward the past. When the content, too, is considered, the construction emerges in its reach and extent as an emblem of the hero’s many (re)turns.
Odysseus’ recollection puts in the center of the Odyssey all of his νόστος “return” that precedes the epic. His analepsis reaches back to his first stop after leaving Troy, extends through nine more cycles of coming and going, and ends where the poem begins, with the hero enthralled by Calypso. [37] Teiresias’ prophecy bisects this recollection of the past with a vision of Odysseus’ future νόστοι “returns.” Through these anachronies the “line” that is the text imitates the circles of departure and return that make up heroic experience. For the two parts of Teiresias’ prophecy sweep forward, the first reaching to the end of the epic and the second beyond the end, round again and back to the center of the poem in Hades.
Teiresias first explains what νόστος “return” in the second half of the Odyssey will require.
“‘νόστον δίζηαι μελιηδέα, φαίδιμ᾽ Ὀδυσσεῦ:
τὸν δέ τοι ἀργαλέον θήσει θεός: οὐ γὰρ ὀίω
λήσειν ἐννοσίγαιον, ὅ τοι κότον ἔνθετο θυμῷ
χωόμενος ὅτι οἱ υἱὸν φίλον ἐξαλάωσας.
ἀλλ᾽ ἔτι μέν κε καὶ ὣς κακά περ πάσχοντες ἵκοισθε,
αἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλῃς σὸν θυμὸν ἐρυκακέειν καὶ ἑταίρων,
ὁππότε κε πρῶτον πελάσῃς ἐυεργέα νῆα
Θρινακίῃ νήσῳ, προφυγὼν ἰοειδέα πόντον,
βοσκομένας δ᾽ εὕρητε βόας καὶ ἴφια μῆλα
Ἠελίου, ὃς πάντ᾽ ἐφορᾷ καὶ πάντ᾽ ἐπακούει.’”

“‘Glorious Odysseus, you are seeking honey-sweet homecoming,
but the god will make this grievious for you. For I think you will not
escape the Shaker of the Earth, who has stored up wrath in his spirit,
being angry because you blinded his dear son.
But even so and still you might come back, after much suffering,
if you are willing to restrain your own spirit and your companions’,
at that time when you first bring your well-made vessel near
to the island Thrinakia, escaping the violet-colored deep,
and there find the pasturing cattle and fat sheep
of Helios, who sees all things, and listens to all things.’”
Odyssey xi 100–109
The hero’s νόστος “return” demands restraint of θυμός “spirit, passion” in accord with what the prophetic νόος “intelligence” can see will determine his goal. Teiresias sees that Odysseus must restrain his hunger to eat the Cattle of the Sun. If he wants a day of homecoming, he must observe correct ξενία “guest-friend exchange” with the bringer of all days. If he wants to expel the Suitors, guests who eat their host’s food by force, he must leave the herds of this host unscathed. With the ability to make the body serve the devisings of the mind, one man can defeat many.
Teiresias’ prophecy does not stop, however, where the poem ends, with the defeat of the Suitors. The reach and extent of his prophecy include the future beyond the border of the epic, just as Odysseus’ tale embraces the past before its start. After killing his rivals, Odysseus must take up an oar and travel until he reaches men who have never seen the sea or tasted salt (Odyssey xi 119–125). This will be his final cycle of departure and return:
“‘σῆμα δέ τοι ἐρέω μάλ᾽ ἀριφραδές, οὐδέ σε λήσει:
ὁππότε κεν δή τοι συμβλήμενος ἄλλος ὁδίτης
φήῃ ἀθηρηλοιγὸν ἔχειν ἀνὰ φαιδίμῳ ὤμῳ,
καὶ τότε δὴ γαίῃ πήξας ἐυῆρες ἐρετμόν,
ῥέξας ἱερὰ καλὰ Ποσειδάωνι ἄνακτι,
ἀρνειὸν ταῦρόν τε συῶν τ᾽ ἐπιβήτορα κάπρον,
οἴκαδ᾽ ἀποστείχειν ἔρδειν θ᾽ ἱερᾶς ἑκατόμβας
ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσι,
πᾶσι μάλ᾽ ἑξείης. θάνατος δέ τοι ἐξ ἁλὸς αὐτῷ
ἀβληχρὸς μάλα τοῖος ἐλεύσεται, ὅς κέ σε πέφνῃ
γήραι ὕπο λιπαρῷ ἀρημένον: ἀμφὶ δὲ λαοὶ
ὄλβιοι ἔσσονται. τὰ δέ τοι νημερτέα εἴρω.’”

“‘And I will tell you a very clear sign and it will not escape your notice.
Whenever indeed, another wayfarer meets with you
and says that you have a winnowing-fan on your bright shoulder,
then indeed you must fix your well-fitted oar in the earth
and make beautiful sacrifices to the lord Poseidon,
a ram and a bull and wild boar, mounter of sows,
and then go away back home again and render holy hecatombs
to the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven,
all of them in order. And for you yourself a very gentle death away
from the sea will come which will slay you
overcome by shining old age. Your people about you
will be blessed. These things I say to you are unerring.’”
Odyssey xi 126–137
In this final return of the hero, the Odyssey itself circles around to reconnect with itself. After leaving home, sailing again, and reaching so far inland that men interpret the oar as a winnowing-fan, Odysseus will plant this instrument in which commerce at sea and cultivation of the land now coincide. Coming back to Ithaca from this farthest, most foreign land, will be Odysseus’ last homecoming, but not his last νόστος. For from this ultimate reunion with his own people, a “very gentle death” will return Odysseus to the place where he and the poem stand now. [38] In Teiresias’ proleptic perspective these oppositions—commerce and agriculture, sea and land, foreign peoples and family at home, death and life—dissolve in a “still point” at the turning of the epic in Hades.

The Cattle of the Sun: ὕστερον–πρότερον of Memory

Odysseus does not end his tale without attempting to validate Teiresias’ grand prophecy. Here there is none of the uncertainty that closes the katabasis of the Aeneid, no shade from the ivory gate (Vergil Aeneid VI 893–898). Odysseus is unambivalent in his desire for conveyance by his hosts, and his elaborate precautions and strenuous efforts since arriving at Phaeacia imply that their response cannot be taken for granted. But just as another tale by Odysseus will wangle a mantle from Eumaeus and another by Penelope will elicit gifts from the Suitors (Odyssey xiv 459–517, xviii 250–283), so this story may win passage from the Phaeacians if it persuades them of two things, that Teiresias’ prophecy is true and that Odysseus can meet its demands. To prove himself and corroborate Teiresias, Odysseus again applies the rhetorical force of prolepsis.
In Book xii Odysseus as narrator risks the tedium of repetition in order to establish a pattern of proleptic admonition and subsequent response. After rehearsing in full Circe’s forecast of his coming trials (Odyssey xii 37–141), he then describes how he survived them all by remembering her instructions and acting upon them. [39] By this sequence he demonstrates the “death” of the man who indulged his θυμός “spirit, passion” in his encounter with Polyphemus and his “rebirth” as one who can fulfill Teiresias’ conditions for homecoming: to remember a prophecy and to restrain his θυμός accordingly. Conversely, the hero’s success in the trials ratifies the prophet’s conditions.
Besides Odysseus’ own behavior, the fate of his crew confirms the truth of Teiresias’ predictions. At every point, Odysseus repeats Circe’s directions to his comrades. Encountering the Sirens, all remember and obey, and no one is lost. Next, preparing for Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus tries to encourage his men by reminding them of their escape from the Cyclops’ cave.
“‘ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔνθεν ἐμῇ ἀρετῇ, βουλῇ τε νόῳ τε,
ἐκφύγομεν, καί που τῶνδε μνήσεσθαι ὀίω.
νῦν δ᾽ ἄγεθ᾽, ὡς ἂν ἐγὼ εἴπω, πειθώμεθα πάντες.’”

“‘But even from there, by my excellence, both my counsel and my intelligence,
we escaped. I think that somehow all these things, too, will be remembered.
But now, come! As I said, let us all be persuaded.’”
Odyssey xii 211–213
Besides remembering past success, the men are to look into the future to the point where present peril becomes remembered escape. They should project upon the future their recollection of the past. Again they comply, and the losses are kept to the predicted minimum (Odyssey xii 108–110, 222–250).
On Helios’ island, however, the outcome is different. At the outset Odysseus recalls the warnings of Teiresias and Circe and conveys them to the crew, but this time to no avail. [40] They steal the god’s cattle and a shipwreck results. Through prolepsis, Odysseus makes this calamity the rhetorical climax of his tale. He repeats the premonition of disaster he had as soon as the crew rejected his plea:
“καὶ τότε δὴ γίγνωσκον ὃ δὴ κακὰ μήδετο δαίμων.”

“And then indeed I was recognizing that the god was indeed devising evils.”
Odyssey xii 295
This anticipation of divine vengeance soon blossoms into the words of the gods themselves. Praying to Zeus, Helios threatens, in effect, to eliminate all days:
“‘εἰ δέ μοι οὐ τίσουσι βοῶν ἐπιεικέ᾽ ἀμοιβήν,
δύσομαι εἰς Ἀίδαο καὶ ἐν νεκύεσσι φαείνω.’”

“‘If these will not pay me fitting recompense for my cattle,
I will go down into the house of Hades and shine my light among the dead.’”
Odyssey xii 382–383
In ignoring Teiresias’ prophecy, the shipmates have committed a crime tantamount to turning the cosmos inside out, to putting the source of life in the place of death. [41] Zeus promises to restore the natural order:
“‘Ἠέλι᾽, ἦ τοι μὲν σὺ μετ᾽ ἀθανάτοισι φάεινε
καὶ θνητοῖσι βροτοῖσιν ἐπὶ ζείδωρον ἄρουραν:
τῶν δέ κ᾽ ἐγὼ τάχα νῆα θοὴν ἀργῆτι κεραυνῷ
τυτθὰ βαλὼν κεάσαιμι μέσῳ ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ.’”

“‘Helios, indeed for your part do not fail to shine among the immortals
and mortal men upon the grain-giving earth.
And I myself quickly with my shining thunderbolt will strike their swift ship
and split it into small pieces in the middle of the wine-dark deep.’”
Odyssey xii 385–388
This prediction defines the shipwreck, before Odysseus recounts it, as confirmation by the world’s undying realities of Teiresias’ ontology of νόστος “return.” The shipwreck derives Teiresias’ prophecy and Odysseus’ homecoming from the righteousness of Zeus. Who now could doubt the truth of the prophecy or Odysseus’ right to fulfill it? Who would refuse the hero’s return?

III. The Economy of νόστος “return”

In the world of the Odyssey poetry is exchanged. Sometimes, as between Odysseus and the Phaeacians, the process is part of ξενία, an exchange between “guest-friends.” And sometimes it is more “economic” with the parties clearly identified as producer and consumer and the recompense set beforehand. [42] A θέσπις ἀοιδός “divine singer” is one of the δημιοεργοί “those who do the people’s work” (Odyssey xvii 382–385), a professional who makes his living by trading his stories for shelter, clothes, food, or conveyance. In either case, the exchange proves that poetry has “economic value.” A tale is rewarded, if it tells the truth or what the listeners want the truth to be. [43] Conversely, a poem’s worth in the eyes of the listeners is measured by what it elicits, what it “makes.” In these terms, the response to Odysseus’ tale makes it a masterwork.
Like a good audience, the Phaeacians in Book viii indicate beforehand what they want to hear. Although they have already offered gifts and expressed their willingness to escort Odysseus home, their πομπή “conveyance” still requires his self-identifying tale. Alcinous asks his name and country so that the Phaeacians’ self-piloting ships may know where to take him (Odyssey viii 550–563) and even specifies the guiding theme for his story, the observance or violation of ξενία “guest-friend exchange,” the Phaeacians’ pre-eminent virtue:
“ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε μοι τόδε εἰπὲ καὶ ἀτρεκέως κατάλεξον,
ὅππῃ ἀπεπλάγχθης τε καὶ ἅς τινας ἵκεο χώρας
ἀνθρώπων, αὐτούς τε πόλιάς τ᾽ ἐὺ ναιετοώσας,
ἠμὲν ὅσοι χαλεποί τε καὶ ἄγριοι οὐδὲ δίκαιοι,
οἵ τε φιλόξεινοι, καί σφιν νόος ἐστὶ θεουδής.”

“But come now, tell me this and narrate exactly
both where you have wandered and what lands of men
you have reached, both the people and their populous cities,
both as many as are cruel and savage and not just,
and those who are kind to guests and have a god-fearing mind.”
Odyssey viii 572–576
But between his promise of conveyance and his request for Odysseus’ tale, Alcinous recalls his father’s gloomy prophecy:
“ἀλλὰ τόδ᾽ ὥς ποτε πατρὸς ἐγὼν εἰπόντος ἄκουσα
Ναυσιθόου, ὃς ἔφασκε Ποσειδάων᾽ ἀγάσασθαι
ἡμῖν, οὕνεκα πομποὶ ἀπήμονές εἰμεν ἁπάντων.
φῆ ποτὲ Φαιήκων ἀνδρῶν ἐυεργέα νῆα
ἐκ πομπῆς ἀνιοῦσαν ἐν ἠεροειδέι πόντῳ
ῥαισέμεναι, μέγα δ᾽ ἧμιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψειν.
ὣς ἀγόρευ᾽ ὁ γέρων: τὰ δέ κεν θεὸς ἢ τελέσειεν
ἤ κ᾽ ἀτέλεστ᾽ εἴη, ὥς οἱ φίλον ἔπλετο θυμῷ.”

“But this story I once heard from my father,
Nausithoos, who used to say that Poseidon begrudged
us, because we are safe conductors of all men.
He said that some day a well-made ship of the Phaeacians
returning from conveyance in the misty deep
Poseidon would shatter and cover our city with a great mountain.
So that old man used to speak, and these things the god might fulfill
or they may be unfulfilled, as is pleasing to his spirit.”
Odyssey viii 564–571
Along with his request for a poem in return for Odysseus’ νόστος “return” goes the king’s awareness of what this νόστος may cost. The “economic” challenge here for Odysseus is clear: his tale must persuade his audience to give him a homecoming at a mortal risk. The impact of the prophecy Odysseus will narrate must counteract the prophecy that Alcinous remembers now. And, at the end of Odysseus’ story, the truth of Teiresias seems unassailable. The Phaeacians act at once to take their guest home.
And the final cost in this exchange of νόστος for νόστος, the poem for the deed? Now we find something like the poignancy and ambiguity that end Aeneid VI. For in Book xiii, immediately after the Phaeacians leave Odysseus on Ithaca, the text confirms that his was indeed the conveyance predicted by Nausithoos. Like Zeus and Helios before the shipwreck, Zeus and Poseidon debate the Phaeacians’ fate. Poseidon declares his intention to turn their ship to stone and to bury their city beneath a mountain (Odyssey xiii 146–152). Zeus replies:
“ὢ πέπον, ὡς μὲν ἐμῷ θυμῷ δοκεῖ εἶναι ἄριστα,
ὁππότε κεν δὴ πάντες ἐλαυνομένην προΐδωνται
λαοὶ ἀπὸ πτόλιος, θεῖναι λίθον ἐγγύθι γαίης
νηῒ θοῇ ἴκελον, ἵνα θαυμάζωσιν ἅπαντες
ἄνθρωποι, μέγα δέ σφιν ὄρος πόλει ἀμφικαλύψαι.”

“Dear brother, here is how it seems to be best to my spirit:
whenever all the people are watching her from the city
as she is drawn in, then turn her into a stone that looks like
a fast ship, close off shore, so that all men may wonder,
and veil around their city with a great mountain.” [44]
Odyssey xiii 154–158
And what does Poseidon do? We never learn. In what John Peradotto calls a “prophecy degree zero,” the outcome here is left uncertain, as indeterminable within the text as Teiresias’ prophecy of Odysseus’ death. [45] This uncertainty raises questions that challenge the ontology upon which the truthfulness of Odysseus’ tale is based. Can a divinely ordained homecoming necessitate the divinely ordained destruction of those that accomplish it? If the two prophecies seem to conflict, was one of them a fiction? Neither is confirmed in the text. Can any prophecy or recollection be trusted as true? What is true, in any case, is that the prophecy of Teiresias is coupled with another that opens the question of prophetic truth, just as Odysseus’ recollection in Books ix–xii is matched in the course of xiii–xxiv by his explicitly false “memories” of Crete, two apparent instances of ἀληθέα “true things” followed by ψεύδεα ὁμοῖα ἐτύμοισιν “false things like to real things.” [46]
In admitting these questioning counterparts, the text makes its final disclosure on the nature of νόστος. It acknowledges the inherent instability of (re)turn. It implies that if Odysseus can turn from controlled λόγος “speech”/δόλος “trap” to indulgence of θυμός “spirit, passion” and back to controlled θυμός, he can turn back again. [47] There can be no final return of time, for the truth of the past or future always eludes its only verification, occurrence in a present that never returns. The truth of memory or prophecy can be only a verisimilitude, achieved by the similarity between temporal and causal relations. [48] In admitting the radical uncertainty of anachrony, Odyssean temporality takes its own risk in the economy of νόστος “return.” In order to disclose the nature of the poetic “trope,” it risks (re)turning as an Οὖτις “Nobody” trick against the rhetorical mastery of its hero and poet.


[ back ] 1. An earlier version of this essay appeared in Approaches to Homer, edited by C. Rubino and C. Shelmerdine, Austin, 1983:38–71.
[ back ] 2. de Man 1979:115.
[ back ] 3. See, for example, Stewart 1976:146–195.
[ back ] 4. The term belongs to Frontisi-Ducroux 1976:538–548, a review of Genette, “Discours du récit,” in Figures III (Genette 1972:67–282). In this book, Genette (1980:25–29) describes the three narratological levels of a text as outlined below. Frontisi-Ducroux’s review points the way for my essay by illustrating these three levels with the case of Odysseus as bard.
[ back ] 5. The similes are at Odyssey xi 366–369 and xxi 406–409.
[ back ] 6. Pucci (1982) describes the implications of Odysseus’ epithet πολύτροπος “of many turns” used in Odyssey i 1 in place of his proper name: (1) its attribution to the hero of “manyness”—the repetition of the same or the similar, that is, the “disguised” same; the constant economic accumulation and loss; and perpetual arriving and leaving—and the efforts of the text to direct this “manyness” toward a fulfillment in conclusive victory; (2) its possible reference to the text itself as tropological or rhetorical; and (3) its illustration of the excessive or supplementary property of language to “trope on” or multiply its literal meaning, and how such πολυτροπία “turning many ways” precludes a single, “proper” name with its attendant κλέος “fame in epic poetry.” While different in range, methodology, and emphasis, Pucci’s essay inspires my analysis of the “tropic” structure of (re)turn in the temporal form and the critical action of the poem.
[ back ] 7. On the one- or two-word tropos vs. the extended figura, see Quintilian 9.1.1–9 and 9.2.46 and note 7 of “Similes and Symbol in Odyssey v” in this collection.
[ back ] 8. Genette 1980:25–29.
[ back ] 9. Genette 1980:30–32.
[ back ] 10. This distinction comes from Republic 392c–395, where Plato condemns narration through deceptive μίμησις “imitation” in which the poet speaks as someone else, in favor of ἁπλῆ διήγησις, narration pure and simple in which the poet always speaks in his own voice. These two narrative forms correspond to “mood” defined by Genette 1980:161 as the “name given to the different forms of the verb that are used to affirm more or less the thing in question, and to express . . . the different points of view from which the life or the action is looked at.”
[ back ] 11. Genette 1980:35–48. While the “story” is logically prior to the “narrative” by providing the chronological order that the narrative can either follow or change, it can be the case, when other sources are lacking, that the narrative is our only source of the events of the story. The two narrative levels are nonetheless clearly distinct, when the narrative makes it clear—as in the case of the Odyssey—that it is presenting events out of their chronological order.
[ back ] 12. See Bassett 1920:39. In this article Bassett argues that ὕστερον–πρότερον “the latter thing before the earlier thing” originally meant not just a simple inversion of natural order (for example, Odyssey iv 208: γαμέοντί τε γεινομένῳ τε “both marrying and coming into being”), but complete A–B–A or A–B–B–A sequences.
[ back ] 13. Odysseus’ claim of κλέος “fame” here on the basis of δόλοι “traps” reflects a development from his identification with his previous martial glory in the episode with Polyphemus. See below, note 35.
[ back ] 14. At the level of the story, these brief mentions of Calypso and Circe are analeptic, recollections of what is past. At the level of the narration, that of Calypso remains analeptic, recalling the action of Book v, while that of Circe is proleptic, looking forward to Odysseus’ account in Book x of his encounter with the goddess.
[ back ] 15. Last of all Odysseus mentions his sojourn with Calypso, but he does not elaborate: “why should I tell you these things? For just yesterday I told it to you and your wife in your home” (Odyssey xii 450–453). Note the narrative effect of making Odysseus recount his departure from Calypso separately (Odyssey vii 240–297), before his grand narration of the νόστος “return” that ends with that separation: the end of Odysseus’ tale recalls both his earlier account in Odyssey vii to Arete and the poet’s account of the same action in Book v and at the start of the epic in Book i. The end of Odysseus’ story thereby curves back to the three “same but different” points at which the Odyssey as the narration of Odysseus’ νόστος begins. Compare Genette 1980:45–46 on how the repeated analepses at the start of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu attempt by “propitiatory mimesis” to “exorcize” the difficulty of any beginning. As the “repeated starts” of Odyssey v and xiii testify, this effort to control the difficulty of beginning by imitating it belongs to the earliest stage of Western narrative.
[ back ] 16. Frontisi-Ducroux 1976:541–542 observes how this return to Odysseus’ narrating and the comments of Arete and Alcinous stress the double role of Odysseus as hero and bard.
[ back ] 17. Compare the disclaimers of Nestor (Odyssey iii 113–117), Helen (Odyssey iv 240–241), and Odysseus (Odyssey xiv 193–198, compare Odyssey xiv 463–467) and the similar gesture in the Iliad at the start of the Catalogue of Ships (Iliad II 488–492).
[ back ] 18. The use here of the term κηληθμός “magic charm of song” marks Odysseus as poet. See Stanford 1961:1.394 on Odyssey xi 334.
[ back ] 19. See Stanford 1961:1.395 on Odyssey xi 367: “Note the antithesis between the outward form (ἔπι = ἔπεστι) and inner meaning (ἔνι = ἔνεισι).” Note, too, that if Koller 1972:16–24 is correct in claiming that in epic diction ἔπος designates a hexameter verse, then the plural, ἔπεα, would denote an aggregate of such verses, that is, an epic narrative, and μορφὴ ἐπέων here should be translated as “the form of an epic narration.”
[ back ] 20. See Sandoz 1971:55–67.
[ back ] 21. In Homeric poetry, “beauty”—as indicated by usages of the adjective καλός “beautiful” and the noun κάλλος “beauty”—is preeminently an attribute of works of art and craft: 60% in the Iliad and 48.25% in the Odyssey.
[ back ] 22. See Sandoz 1971:56: “In the Iliad and the Odyssey, in fact, the author lends to ἔπεα [“words”] a material existence.” For the conception of ἔπεα “words” as constituting material objects that occupy tangible space, see also Iliad XX 246–249:

ἔστι γὰρ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι
πολλὰ μάλ᾽, οὐδ᾽ ἂν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.
στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ᾽ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ᾽ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.

For there are for both of us blame-speeches to tell,
very many, nor would a ship of a hundred benches bear the load.
Ever-turning is the tongue of mortals, and in it are many stories
of all kinds, and the field of words is wide on this side and that.

For the image of a νομός “place of pasturage, field, range” of ἐπέων “words,” see also Hesiod, Works and Days 403: ἀχρεῖος δ᾽ ἔσται ἐπέων νομός “the field of your words will be useless.”
[ back ] 23. Durante 1960. See also Schmidt 1967:299–301, Durante 1976:48, 167–179, Snyder 1981, Scheid and Svenbro 1996:esp.111–130, Nagy 1996a:84–92, Nagy 1996b:63–74, Graziosi 2002:18–40, Nagy 2002:70–98.
[ back ] 24. For the Delian Maidens’ song, see “Sacred Apostrophe: Re-Presentation and Imitation in Homeric Hymn to Apollo and Homeric Hymn to Hermes” in this collection.
[ back ] 25. Sandoz (1971:56–57) attempts to derive the meaning of μορφή in hexameter diction by means of the verb, στέφω. He cites Iliad XVIII 203–206 where the object of the verb is νέφος “cloud” and Odyssey v 303–304 where the compound of the verb, περιστέφω, is used in relation to clouds: οἵοισιν νεφέεσσι περιστέφει οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν Ζεύς, which he translates as “de quelles nuées Zeus couvre l’immensité du ciel.” From these usages, together with that of ἐπιστέφανω at Odyssey i 148 = iii 339 = xxi 271, he concludes that “men of the heroic period conceived μορφή as a kind of rain or vapor of beautification.” This interpretation emphasizes and assimilates the two objects of the verb: μορφή shares the characteristics of νέφος “cloud,” whereas I emphasize the form inherent in the verb: when an object of στέφω both μορφή and νέφος share the form of the στέφος “crown, garland, wreath.” In the post-Homeric usages of μορφή studied by Sandoz, the word is shown to denote physical, visible, changeable form: the beautiful figure of the human body, in particular, the external form as opposed to the inner ψυχή “soul,” when μορφή “designates the body in its tangible reality” whether beautiful or ugly; the conformation of an organism in medical texts; the visible form of a corpse or the changing shapes of the moon or a metamorphosing god; the profile of a sphere in materialist philosophy; a “form” that undergoes “transformation” as the object of the nouns μετάστασις “change” or τρόπος “turning,” like a degree of color or the profiles of flames; the curvilinear contour of a circle (as opposed to a rectilinear σχῆμα “configuration”) or an animal; the outline of a σχῆμα in the more general sense of a “figure” or an imprint; the form emanating from an object and imprinting its surroundings in the materialist theory of vision; and the metaphorical sense of a phase in an evolving situation. Sandoz concludes that μορφή “is essentially the form of entities in a situation of transformation, then, in the language of geometry, the form of inflected lines, the contour” (67).
[ back ] 26. The formal and thematic relation between return and intelligence in the Odyssey coheres with the etymology of νόοs “mind, intelligence” offered by Frame 1978. On the basis of evidence in the Homeric epics and the Rig-Veda, and from parallels in other Indo-European languages, Frame argues that both νόστος “return” and νόοs “mind, intelligence” are deverbative substantives of the same root, *nes. According to his derivation, νόστος and νόοs make up an unmarked/marked pair of nouns: νόστος, the more general term, means a return from darkness, death, forgetfulness, or sleep to light, life, consciousness, and home, while νόοs, restricted to mental activity, denotes what may be termed a νόστος or “return” of the mind. Throughout his book, Frame notes with regret that only vestiges of the proposed connection between νόοs and νόστος are found in the language of the Nekyia. Homeric diction regularly indicates awareness of etymological connection by the so-called figura etymologica, and it is true that in Odysseus’ “poem” there is no such figure at the level of diction for νόοs and νόστος. The thematic connection between νόοs and νόστος in Odysseus’ tale may, however, be so deeply embedded in the tradition that his narration is by itself such an etymological figure.
[ back ] 27. As Plato will later maintain that μάθησις “knowledge” is ἀνάμνησις “recollection” in the present of what was learned in the past (see, for example, Plato Phaedo 72e), so the return of the past to the present in the Odyssey is the homecoming of the mind. It is self-constituting, “self-poetic.”
[ back ] 28. Note the parallel inversions in the Polyphemus and Cattle of the Sun episodes of the motifs of eating and speech: in the first, the issue for Odysseus and his crew is what to say, while for Polyphemus it is what to eat; in the second, the crew’s improper eating is signified by the equally improper φωνή “sound” of the pieces of meat which bellow like cattle (Odyssey xii 396).
[ back ] 29. Most representative of those who defend revealing the name is Dimock 1956. Dimock’s reading is informed by the tenets of ego-psychology and its foundation in Existentialist philosophy. For Odysseus, to enter Polyphemus’ cave and there to name himself “Nobody” is to return to the womb and pre-birth anonymity. Both the blinding of the giant and the subsequent exclamation of his name are necessary for rebirth: “This cry of defiance is thought to be foolish of the wily Odysseus, no less by his crew than by the critics, but it is in reality, like the boar hunt, a case of deliberate self-exposure for the purpose of being somebody rather than nobody . . . To pass from the darkness of the cave into the light, to pass from being ‘nobody’ to having a name, is to be born. But to be born is to cast one’s name in the teeth of a hostile universe” (55–56). For Dimock the blinding and the true naming are not separable: both are necessary, if Odysseus is not to remain a “nobody” in the womb. In direct opposition to this reading is the ethnographic approach of Brown 1966. Invoking the 1857 Die Sage von Polyphem of Wilhelm Grimm and citing the studies of Hackman, Radermacher, Frazer, Carpenter, and Page, Brown attempts to demonstrate that the Polyphemus episode exemplifies a folktale common in Europe and Asia, and that the concealment and revelation of the name, along with Polyphemus’ curse, must be understood as an instance of “name taboo” or belief in “the power of the name” common in ancient societies. Brown documents “the belief that the personal name is a vital part of the self, that it is dangerous for anyone to know it and to reveal it puts one in the power of the other,” in order to show how by giving his name Odysseus “makes it possible for Polyphemus to lay a curse upon him” (196). From this comparative, ethnographic perspective, the concealment of the name is not a psychological regression, but a mature, self-preserving restraint, while its revelation is the opposite, just as “Nobody” is the opposite of the proper name (rather than the alternate, but not incorrect, answer, “Myself,” which appears in all the versions of the folktale except the Homeric). The risk to Odysseus’ selfhood thus lies in his improper naming, rather than in his proper non-name.
[ back ] 30. With regard to assessing the Οὖτις “Nobody”–trick, Austin 1972 accepts Brown’s demonstration of the power of the name, but shares the values of Dimock. Austin shows how this false naming or non-naming is one in a series of strategic concealments of real identity either through language or physical disguise (at Troy as beggar and inside the Trojan horse, at the Phaeacians’ island, Scheria, and at Ithaca). These concealments amount, in his view, to self-negations that “undercut” the identity and achievements of the “superhero” (15–16). In a pun on Odysseus’ pun that is worthy of the hero himself, Austin writes, “Odysseus polymêtis, when he is exercising his Mêtis, then is he invariably Outis. His mask is his Mêtis; the face it displays to the world is Outis” (16). From my perspective, however, with its roots in structuralist anthropology, narratology, and theory of meaning by analogous oppositions, it remains a question whether in the ideology of the Odyssey itself these manipulations of the nom propre undermine the hero or whether, on the contrary, they precisely define the polytropic heroism of the master of δόλος “trap,” the lure of false appearance (see the usages of δόλος at Odyssey viii 276 of Hephaestus’ net, Odyssey viii 494 of the Trojan horse, Odyssey xii 252 of bait, Odyssey xix 137 of Penelope’s weaving, Hesiod Theogony 589 and Works and Days 83 of Pandora, and Odyssey ix 19–20, where Odysseus attributes to all his δόλοι “traps” the κλέος “fame” he is about to recount). It is at least true that within the text Odysseus never suffers from or fails to achieve victory from “impersonating” Οὖτις “Nobody” except in the episode with Polyphemus, when he gives up control of the role and the rate of recognition. Indeed, the successful “structure of revelation” constructed by Odysseus at Scheria and Ithaca (Austin 1972:17), his successful working of the magic, trickster-like power of visibility and invisibility, identity and disguise, is discernible by its contrast with the earlier failure.
[ back ] 31. Page 1955:19n14.
[ back ] 32. This pun has often been noticed: for example, Eustathius Commentarii ad Homeri Odysseam vol. 1, p. 353 on Odyssey ix 413: δόξοι δ’ ἂν τὸ, “ἐμὸν δ’ ἐγέλασε φίλον κῆρ” καὶ ἑξῆς, καὶ Ὁμηρικῶς [reading Ὁμηρικῶς, as in the phrase ὕστερον–πρότερον Ὁμηρικῶς, for the apparent misprint, Ὁμηρικὸς] ἐμφαίνειν χαρὰν ἐπὶ τῇ δεξίᾳ πλάσει τοῦ τοιούτου σοφίσματος “And this would seem—the ‘and my dear heart laughed’ and following—also in the Homeric manner to display delight in the clever invention of such an ingenious device”; Stanford 1961:1.361 (commentary at Odyssey ix 408); Podlecki 1961:130n11; Frame 1978:71; Austin 1972. Stanford (1972:105) notes: “This is the only place in Homer where ambiguity and paronomasia motivate a whole episode. Technically, it is possibly the cleverest use in all Greek. The symmetry of Οὖτις – οὔ τις – μή τις – μῆτις and the echo in οὐτιδανός anticipate the most ingenious constructions of the sophists.”
[ back ] 33. See Austin 1972:13: “Odysseus derives almost excessive pleasure from outwitting Polyphemus with his punning pseudonym Outis, No-Man. It is a good pun because a double pun in Greek. Polyphemus, when blinded, wails that Οὖτις is killing him and his neighbors reply with the alternative negative μή τις, thus unwittingly punning on μῆτις, intelligence, the suffix of Odysseus’ destructive epithet polymêtis. Odysseus, hearing their exchange on Outis and Mêtis as the cause of Polyphemus’ pain, laughs that his name and his wit (onoma and mêtis) have deceived them.” We should note, however, that it is Odysseus as narrator, and not the neighboring Cyclopes, who is ultimately responsible for the pun: both hero and poet are laughing.
[ back ] 34. In hexameter diction φήμη with its alternate form, φῆμις, means either unmarked “speech,” whether report or rumor (Iliad X 207) or marked “speech with the force of action, often about the future,” whether omen, prayer, or blame (Odyssey ii 35, vi 273, xiv 239, xvi 75, xix 527, xx 100, 105, xxiv 201, Hesiod Works and Days 760–764, fr. 176.2 MW, and note also, Odyssey xv 468, where φῆμις is local, the “place of the speech of the people” and the name of the poet Phemius, Odyssey i 337, xvii 263, xxii 331). The two usages in epic of the adjective πολύφημος reflect the diathetic ambiguity of the compound: the ἀγορὴν πολύφημον of Odyssey ii 150 and the πολύφημος ἀοιδός of Odyssey xxii 376 can be either “much speaking” or “much spoken of.”
[ back ] 35. Compare the earlier instances of ξενία “guest-friend exchange” in the Odyssey in which the guest is asked for his name only after and in return for what he has received: Odyssey i 119–176, Odyssey iii 22–71, Odyssey iv 37–64, and Odyssey vii 133–239. Note also Odysseus’ account of his stay at Aeolus’ island, where hospitality is followed by questioning and story-telling: Odyssey x 14–16. From Aeolus as from the Phaeacians, Odysseus receives the ὁδός “road” and the πομπή “conveyance” he requests in return for his recitation: Odyssey x 17–18.
[ back ] 36. In the naming of himself at the start of his “poem,” Odysseus registers the recognition, following the encounter with Polyphemus, of δόλοι “traps” as essential to his κλέος “fame” (Odyssey ix 19–20). We can see now how this naming marks a progression from the identification with his earlier martial glory displayed in his exchanges with Polyphemus, when he calls his men “the troops of Agamemnon” whose κλέος “fame” for sacking Troy is “now the greatest under heaven” (Odyssey ix 263–266) and names himself πτολιπόρθιος “sacker of cities,” the epithet the Cyclops repeats in his curse (Odyssey ix 504, 530).
[ back ] 37. The ten arrivals are: the Cicones, the Lotus Eaters, the Cyclopes, Aeolus (twice), the Laestrygonians, Circe (twice), Hades, and the island of the Sun.
[ back ] 38. It is no wonder that generations of readers have found the end of the Odyssey to be somehow not an “ending,” for Odysseus’ νόστος “return” ends only here, in the center of the poem, in the place where the epic’s essential oppositions are finally resolved. On the tradition of dispute about the end of the Odyssey, see Wender 1978 and Finley 1978, Appendices I and II.
[ back ] 39. In preparing to encounter Scylla (Odyssey xii 226–231) Odysseus seems to have deviated from perfect adherence to Circe’s instructions. When the goddess directs him to lose six men to Scylla rather than confront Charybdis, Odysseus asks if he cannot somehow fight off Scylla to save the six men (Odyssey xii 112–114). Circe answers:

There is not any defense. It is best to run away from her.
For if you delay by arming yourself beside her rock,
I fear she will spring forward and catch you
with the same number of heads and snatch away as many men as before.
Rather drive on with all vigor and call upon Krataiïs.
She is the mother of Scylla, who bore her as a misery for mortals,
and she then will make her cease from springing forth again.
Odyssey xii 120–126

Upon approaching Scylla, however, Odysseus “forgets” this advice, arms himself, and stands at the prow, looking intently for the monster’s attack (Odyssey xii 226–231). The sight of Charybdis then diverts his attention, while Scylla takes the six men from behind his back (Odyssey xii 244–250). Contrary to what Circe “feared,” Odysseus does not suffer any further losses (perhaps because he only arms himself and does not “delay” further by stopping to fight). Whether or not he forestalls a second attack by invoking Scylla’s mother is not clear, for Odysseus ends his narration of the episode with the sight of the six being captured, the “most pitiful scene” of all his sufferings, and turns at once to the landing at Thrinakia (Odyssey xii 258–262). That Circe herself, in telling him to invoke Krataiïs, gave him a “weapon” by which to escape the consequences of arming himself does suggest, however, that this limited retention of martial spirit does not contradict divine injunction.
[ back ] 40. Note that Odysseus’ periphrasis at Odyssey xii 266–268 makes his θυμός “spirit, passion” the seat of his remembering: “‘καί μοι ἔπος ἔμπεσε θυμῷ μαντῆος ἀλαοῦ Θηβαίου Τειρεσίαο Κίρκης τ᾿ Αἰαίης’” “‘and upon my spirit fell the word of the blind prophet Teiresias of Thebes, and of Aeaean Circe.’”
[ back ] 41. On the eating of the Sun’s cattle as a violation of religious, social and alimentary codes, see Vernant 1972:xiv–xvii: through their confusion of hunting and sacrifice, domestic and wild animals, and their use of leaves instead of grain and water instead of wine, the crew perform a perverted sacrifice, as the crawling skins and the bellowing meat, both raw and cooked, attest.
[ back ] 42. As recompense for the κλέος “fame” he sings, the professional poet receives material sustenance and a good κλέος for himself that will increase the “market value” of his songs. Phemius is paid with shelter and food, but is forced to accept the transaction (Odyssey i 154). Demodocus receives similar support, along with a choice cut of meat from Odysseus and a promise to spread his fame in return for singing the “Wooden Horse” (Odyssey viii 477–498). Disguised as a wandering beggar, Odysseus tries to ply the same trade without the advantage of a permanent position, when he offers his stories in return for clothing from Eumaeus (Odyssey xiv 459–517) and Penelope (Odyssey xvii 549–550) and promises to spread Alcinoos’ κλέος in return for food (Odyssey xvii 418).
[ back ] 43. See Svenbro 1976:11–45.
[ back ] 44. Reading, with the manuscripts, μέγα rather than the Alexandrian μή.
[ back ] 45. Peradotto 1985:429–455. This study provides a comprehensive morphology of prophecy in the Odyssey.
[ back ] 46. Odysseus’ “Cretan lie” is termed ψεύδεα ὁμοῖα ἐτύμοισιν “false things like to real things” at Odyssey xix 203. On the two categories of the Muses’ speech in Hesiod Theogony 27–28, see “Language and the Female in Early Greek Thought” in this collection.
[ back ] 47. Readers of Paul de Man’s analysis of Nietzsche’s rhetoric of tropes (de Man 1979:103–118) will recognize in this theme of the Odyssey an allegory of the philosopher’s view of figures. As de Man puts it, “All rhetorical structures, whether we call them metaphor, metonymy, chiasmus, metalepsis, hypallagus, or whatever, are based on substitutive reversals, and it seems unlikely that one more such reversal over and above the ones that have already taken place would suffice to restore things to their proper order. One more ‘turn’ or trope added to a series of earlier reversals will not stop the turn towards error” (113).
[ back ] 48. 47. Compare de Man 1979:108, paraphrasing Nietzsche: “Logical priority is uncritically deduced from a contingent temporality.”